Youth-Led Immigrant Rights Group Demands Congress Defund Trump Deportation Force Agencies

Interview with Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director with the group United We Dream, conducted by Scott Harris

After the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended on Jan. 25, another deadline now looms on Feb. 15.  On Feb.11, Democratic and Republican congressional negotiators said they had reached a budget “agreement in principle” to prevent another partial government shutdown by funding border security, while including no money for President Donald Trump’s proposed southern border wall. Trump could accept the bipartisan deal, while still retaining the option to issue an executive order declaring an emergency in order to bypass Congress to get border wall funding.
But as budget talks continued, United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country, pressed their campaign to defund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Immigration and Border Protection (CBP), federal agencies that the activist group describes as Trump’s deportation force.
In their new report, titled, “The Truth about ICE and CBP,” United We Dream describes the constant violent abuses that immigrant youth, children and their families suffer at the hands of these agencies every day. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Sanaa Abrar, United We Dream’s advocacy director, who talks about the report and the reasons why her group is now pressuring Congress to defund these immigration enforcement agencies.
SANAA ABRAR: One example of a story that we’ve included in this report, which is available at, is the story of Miguel. Miguel is a New Jersey resident. He’s also a DACA recipient. He was on his way to get coffee in the morning in his car and he was blocked at the end of a road in his own neighborhood by unmarked vehicles. Two individuals came out of the vehicles and they identified themselves as ICE agents. They asked him for his identification. Miguel provided his DACA. They challenged the validity of his DACA, and they actually took him into a detention camp in New Jersey where he spent a few months actually incarcerated because of ICE.

This is a DACA recipient, right? So we would understand DACA as being protection from detention and deportation, but unfortunately, his isn’t the only story. You know, when we talk about Border Patrol, there have been extremely high-profile cases that have come up in recent months as a result of Border Patrol abuses.

One of the stories has been of Jakelin Caal (Maquin), a very young Guatemalan girl who came to the United States, crossed the border with her father and a group of immigrants who are coming to this country. She ended up dying in Border Patrol custody and this was partly a result of the conditions of the camp that she was being kept in. There’s also the case of Felipe Alonzo (Gomez), who was in a very similar situation, a very young boy who died on Christmas Day in Border Patrol custody.

We highlight the cases of many stories and firsthand examples of the abuses of ICE and CBP. This report that we have goes through 144 unique reports from 2018 that basically draw a pattern of not only the abuses of ICE and Border Patrol, but collaboration in certain localities between local law enforcement and ICE. We also do the work of organizing the loved ones of those who are in detention to take action.

So, for example, last week as well as this week, United We Dream is bringing families of individuals in detention to Washington, D.C., to lobby on their behalf. Last week with the release of this report, we actually had families of detained individuals going from office to office on Capitol Hill dropping off this report, essentially saying, “This is my story. That’s the policy, that’s the evidence and these are the stories that you need so that you can understand completely why do we need to defund these agencies.”

And we’ll be doing the same this week as well and ensuring that the stories of those who may be miles and miles away in a detention cell – their stories are still being heard among policymakers and their staff.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s been the response of congresspeople you’ve spoken with and your organization has contacted about your pressure being exerted to defund Customs and Border Protection and ICE? There are a lot of people in country who believe the nation needs a force at the border to regulate immigration. I wonder how you respond to that or how you approached that particular issue with Congress.

SANAA ABRAR: I have hope. I can literally feel the winds of change blowing. Last Thursday, we had the great honor of being not only with families of those who have been detained at a press event, but also with Congresswomen (Ayanna) Presley, (Rashida) Tlaib, (Ilhan) Omar and (Alexandria) Ocasio-Cortez calling for the defunding of the agencies of ICE and Border Patrol. We’ve also had success in the past with members signing on to letters calling for reductions and funding for ICE and Border Patrol, both on the House and the Senate side. For example, last year, we were able to get the support of about 83 House Democrats onto a letter in 2018 calling for reductions. That same year we were able to get about 20 or so senators to also call for reductions in funding.

And those are the tactics that we are continuing to employ and to escalate upon, to get members of Congress to understand that they can take action. We are finding that it is becoming increasingly not only a conversation point, but a battle cry for many members of Congress. So we look forward to continuing to use tools like our report as well as bringing in families to really explore and expose honestly the human consequences of what ICE and Border Patrol are doing so that members of Congress have the tools that they need to show why it is so necessary to defund these agencies.
For more information on United We Dream, visit

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